Music theory has never been the most popular aspect of producing.
Merely hearing the words ‘musicaltheory’ conjures images of old angry piano teachers trying to force unwanted knowledge into their students, while blatantly ignoring the stuff that they really need to know (you know, like playing music…).
As a result, within the world of electronic production, music theory is often ignored in its entirety – a mere afterthought that is considered useless and unnecessary by many.
Which couldn’t be further from the truth.
Having both an understanding of basic music theory, and the ability to apply it to your production is integral to producing quality music.
The only downside is actually knowing where to start.
A good place to start is with the 5 key music theory tips for electronic producers which I outline in this article.
I should note that having an understanding of very basic music theory (scales, triads, and chord structure) is likely to help implement these into your production immediately – although isn’t necessarily essential.
1. Use Broken Chords
Simple chord progressions are the backbone of quality music production. They can also be used in a myriad of different ways to produce unique melodies, adding an extra layer and a certain depth to your music.
One way we can use them is in the form of broken chords.
Broken chording essentially describes the process of breaking up chords (hence the name I guess…) into their component notes, and proceeding to play them as short standalone arpeggios. While this method doesn’t necessarily add any rhythmic interest (as normal chord progressions would), it does offer an exceptional way to establish interesting melodies that fit in perfectly with your chosen chord progression.
Using this method you can very subtly add an extra layer to simpler chord progressions, providing a unique feel to the music without the use of overbearing melodies.
2. Introduce Modes into your production
If you are unaware of what modes are, then prepare to be introduced to a true game-changer.
Scales are a very basic component of musical theory (most people know at least two or three major scales). Within this, a mode is essentially a type of scale that is derived from the more familiar major scales, in which it starts on a different tone of that scale.
This could mean adding a sharp or flat to a major scale, or changing the starting note of a major scale.
Now, while this may sound like a relatively simple concept (we are essentially using the notes from major scales in a slightly different way), it ultimately ‘unlocks’ an entire world of unique and untapped musical scales that we can use in our productions.
By using modes, we can produce some incredibly unique sounding tunes that are individual to our musical style.
3. Become familiar with pentatonic scales
Keeping with the scale theme, the introduction of pentatonic scales is an excellent way to provide a unique touch to your melodies.
Pentatonic scales are simply scales that only have five notes (hence the name ‘penta – meaning 5 – tonic’). While this may sound a little on the basic side, they offer a huge amount of variability and flexibility that isn’t observed with more traditional major scales, ensuring the introduction of some more memorable melodies into your music production.
The trick to using pentatonic scales effectively is to ensure you experiment with them extensively. Because they are so very flexible, they can be used in a multitude of different ways – so work until you find one that you feel fits the rhythm perfectly.
4. Start doubling your octaves
One of the most challenging aspects of producing electronic music is creating decent sounding harmonies – which is exactly where octave doubling comes into play.
Octave doubling describes the process where two or more instruments have been arranged to play the same voice (in perfect unison) one or more octaves apart. A very simple example of this would be in a classical orchestra, where both flutes and strings play the exact same melody, but the flutes play on a much higher register – resulting in a powerful harmony.
Using the same principals, we can create some incredibly rich sounding harmonies that really take our productions to the next level.
It is important to note that octave doubling typically sounds best with longer passages of music – generally a full phase is needed to get the optimal effect.
5. Invert your chords
Chord inversions offer one of the most effective ways to add a sense of richness to your more traditional chord progressions – and as an added bonus, they are incredibly simple to introduce.
Chord inversions are different ways to play the same chord. An inversion is when the note in the bass of the chord is not the same as the note that the chord is named after.
For example, if a D chord had any other note in bass, then the chord would be inverted.
Each inversion has its own unique sound and gives us an excellent way to make our progressions more exciting.
To learn more about inverted chords and how to use them, click HERE
Music theory isn’t necessarily the most exciting topic – particularly when most of us want to just jump in and produce some music – but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its place.
Certain aspects of music theory can help add depth and emotion to our music, improving production quality significantly. The five tips outlined in this article offer very simple aspects of musical theory that you can immediately integrate into your productions, vastly improving your sound and production quality.
Try them today and let us know what you think!
About The Author
Graham Aubrey is a music lover, professional DJ, and blogger. As someone who slowly built his love for music into a lasting and successful career, he is incredibly passionate about helping others do the same. To see more of his work, visit https://www.discjockeygeek.com.